By Cynthia Estlund
Harvard University Press, 2017
When imagining Chinese labor, a recurring depiction involves unregulated, exploitative sweatshops, comprised of workers deprived of their ability to take action. Cynthia Estlund’s book, A New Deal for China’s Workers? offers readers an opportunity to understand Chinese labor without the distortion of what she calls “western-tinged” glasses. Estlund, a leading expert in U.S. labor and employment law, turned to China seeking to expound on the nation’s complex labor relations as it sits on the cusp of great potential for reform. For the Chinese working class their demands include higher wages, as well as an actual voice — not one muffled by state-regulated unions. Estlund approaches this topic through a comparison of this moment in Chinese labor relations to the American New Deal in the 1930s, which brought unprecedented reform to the U.S. workforce. When the “western-tinged” glasses are removed it becomes clear that America can be doing much more when it comes to improving the lives of our workers, and perhaps can even learn from China’s recent efforts in labor reform.